By Kristin McGee
Have you ever noticed how babies can sit straight with seemingly little-to-no effort? Their spines are nice and erect, their limbs are mobile and their heads balance naturally without any strain on their necks or shoulders. As adults, we have to work at maintaining good posture and often times we end up gripping our musculature and tensing up in order to sit tall.
Now think about how quickly a 2-year-old bounces back up after falling down; watch an 8-year-old do a full wheel pose without thinking twice about it; or a teenager not be afraid to flip upside down into a handstand!
As children, we are naturally more flexible, daring, unselfconscious, pliable and have natural strength to support our own body. As adults, we let gravity take over, we become stiff, self-conscious, tense and try and grip our way through muscular activities instead of finding and relying on our own natural internal strength.
I love inspiring children because habits learned early on in life are easier to maintain. Learning a foreign language as a child is so much easier than as an adult. Yoga is much the same way: Start young and you’ll keep the benefits of yoga throughout your life.
Learning to Breathe
The word yoga means to unite or to join, and in yoga, we unite our minds and our bodies via our best friend, breath. Children naturally take deep, full, belly breaths and yoga enables a child to become aware of their wonderful breath at a young age, which also allows them to see how they can use it to calm down, develop patience, get more focused and push to a new level in a posture or exercise. In fact, anxiety in most children can be quelled through the soothing Ujayii breath that we use in the yoga. It’s also great to show children just how incredible their breath is; to help a child become more mindful of each living, breathing moment makes them more present and appreciative of themselves and others.
Yoga teaches us patience. In yoga practice, we often hold postures for quite some time. I vividly remember my legs shaking in Warrior 2 pose in one of my very first yoga classes wondering “when is this going to end?” The teacher encouraged us to breathe deeply and stay just a few more seconds and sure enough, I was able to last and discovered a new kind of strength I never knew I had, in addition to the art of being patient. When we have to hold a pose or a stretch and sit with the discomfort we are feeling, it helps us deal better with uncomfortable situations in life and learn to calm down and relax and be more patient with ourselves and others. In this quick-paced, immediate-gratification and technology-overloaded world, it is especially important for children to learn that anything worth doing requires time, dedication and patience.
Stronger Bodies, Stronger Minds
Yoga builds strength, helps with balance and increases flexibility, all of which children can benefit from greatly. The kind of strength we develop in yoga relies on our own using our own body to support our weight. It is empowering for children to come into challenging arm balances and standing poses not only to build leg strength but also to promote self-confidence. Tree pose, Eagle pose, Dancing Shiva, to name a few, are all wonderful balancing postures that help children build bone density, gain core strength and develop more focus and concentration. And of course, let’s not forget flexibility! Every posture we do in yoga requires flexible hips, shoulders, hamstring, backs, wrists and feet even. Through yoga, children can learn how to stretch safely, open up and stay flexible. Better flexibility and core strength leads to better posture and deeper, fuller breathing as well.
More benefits of yoga include:
- Yoga is a great support system for children who are in athletics for better coordination, ease of movement and strength. It’s also great for children who haven’t found a sport they love because it gives them a chance to exercise and discover something they can do on their own or with friends.
- Yoga aids in better sleep and healthier eating habits. Children learn to listen to their bodies’ natural cues and respond by eating more mindfully and resting more soundly.
- Most importantly, yoga helps us realize our true potential and become our own best friend. There is enough pressure already on children as it is and yoga is a safe place where children can let go, be free, be mindful, play, get strong, take flight and relax.
Yoga is a way to get in touch with one self and grow and develop to one’s full potential. Yoga is a life-long practice and discovering yoga at any age is life-altering. I encourage people of all ages to get started if they haven’t yet.
Kristin McGee, founder of Bendigirl, is a member of the Wellness Week 2012 expert panel. Wellness Week, March 19-25, is your chance to look and feel your best with exclusive spa treatments, private training and more, all at $50 prices or 50% discounts. Learn more on Wellness Week 2012.